by St. Augustine of Hippo
Our father among the saints, Augustine is one of the great Church Fathers of the fourth century. He was the eldest son of Saint Monica. At the end of his life (426-428) Augustine revisited his previous works in chronological order and suggested what he would have said differently in a work titled the Retractions, which gives us a remarkable picture of the development of a writer and his final thoughts.
In his first sermon on the New Testament, explains what Our Lord’s being born of a woman teaches about the dignity of women.
But now, would He have been any less a man, if He had not been born of the Virgin Mary” one may say. “He willed to be a man; well and good; He might have so been, and yet not be born of a woman; for neither did He make the first man whom He made, of a woman.”
Now see what answer I make to this. You say, Why did He choose to be born of a woman? I answer, Why should He avoid being born of a woman? Granted that I could not show that He chose to be born of a woman; do you show why He need have avoided it. But I have already said at other times, that if He had avoided the womb of a woman, it might have betokened, as it were, that He could have contracted defilement from her; but by how much He was in His own substance more incapable of defilement, by so much less had He cause to fear the woman’s womb, as though He could contract defilement from it.
But by being born of a woman, He purposed to show to us some high mystery. For of a truth, brethren, we grant too, that if the Lord had willed to become man without being born of a woman, it were easy to His sovereign Majesty.
For as He could be born of a woman without a man, so could He also have been born without the woman. But this hath He shown us, that mankind of neither sex might despair of its salvation, for the human sexes are male and female. If therefore being a man, which it behoved Him assuredly to be, He had not been born of a woman, women might have despaired of themselves, as mindful of their first sin, because by a woman was the first man deceived, and would have thought that they had no hope at all in Christ.
He came therefore as a man to make special choice of that sex, and was born of a woman to console the female sex, as though He would address them and say; “That ye may know that no creature of God is bad, but that unregulated pleasure perverteth it, when in the beginning I made man, I made them male and female. I do not condemn the creature which I made. See I have been born a Man, and born of a woman; it is not then the creature which I made that I condemn, but the sins which I made not.”
Let each sex then at once see its honour, and confess its iniquity, and let them both hope for salvation. The poison to deceive man was presented him by woman, through woman let salvation for man’s recovery be presented; so let the woman make amends for the sin by which she deceived the man, by giving birth to Christ. For the same reason again, women were the first who announced to the Apostles the Resurrection of God.
The woman in Paradise announced death to her husband, and the women in the Church announced salvation to the men; the Apostles were to announce to the nations the Resurrection of Christ, the women announced it to the Apostles. Let no one then reproach Christ with His birth of a woman, by which sex the Deliverer could not be defiled, and to which it was in the purpose of the Creator to do honour.